A Historical Analysis of The Writers’ Strike and Why YOU Should Care 

By: JJ Ledewitz  |  September 20, 2023

By JJ Ledewitz, Staff Writer

Kobra Kai, the next thousand Marvel films, every late-night talk show – all paused. Writing and production on many popular movies and TV Series have been suspended, all because their writers and actors are striking. You may be asking “What exactly is the strike about? Why is it happening? Why should I care about it?” In order to delve into these questions and provide answers, we need to discuss the history of Hollywood strikes.

Ever since its inception, the movie and TV industry has continually caused problems for those who work there. Because of this, actors or writers will go on strike frequently, attempting to convince the major corporations to change their unfair rules. While actors and writers have gone on strike almost a dozen times before, the major corporations do what they do best and tap into their greediness and stubbornness when looking over the actors’/writers’ proposals, causing the outcome to be lackluster and devoid of change.

In April of 2023, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) decided to go on strike against the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers). The AMPTP is composed of numerous huge companies including Amazon, Disney, Sony, and Netflix, and they share a contract with the WGA that is essentially an outline of how things must be, and while it is supposed to be updated frequently due to the ever-changing nature of society, the AMPTP concocts every excuse to avoid updating it, which is a main reason why there have been almost ten writer’s strikes in the past century. The WGA has tried to have meetings with the AMPTP within the past few years, but COVID-19 became the main excuse the AMPTP used to avoid this, and the WGA realized that striking was the only solution.

Every past strike has had a specific reason for occurring. The writer’s strike of 1988 happened because reruns were popular but writers were barely getting paid in residuals. The 2007-08 writer’s strike happened because DVDs were popular but writers were barely getting paid in residuals. So are the writers of 2023 suffering from a similar problem with residuals? Yes, but that’s not the only reason they’re striking.

There used to be a whole system for writing movies and TV episodes. Ten to twenty writers would be hired to get together in a room called a “Writers’ Room.” A group of writers with different experiences, different backgrounds, and different lives, to add to characters to make everything on screen feel palpable. Within the past decade, however, everything has changed. The AMPTP began to greedily hire only 3-4 people per room for a small amount of time. What the AMPTP doesn’t seem to realize is that this makes the characters and plot stale and makes it difficult for new writers to break into the industry. If there’s soup but no spices, it’s going to taste bland.

What’s even worse is that the studios have also stopped allowing writers on set. Writers know what works for characters and what doesn’t, as well as what looks good on paper and what doesn’t. Studios don’t understand how close the writers are to the characters. Screenwriter A.C. Bradley commented on this, saying “When you’re banking scripts, especially on short series, you’re writing them in a vacuum. You haven’t started location scouting yet. You haven’t often cast it yet. You don’t really understand the character fully until you cast, because for great TV characters, it’s a marriage of the actor, the writer, and the material. And that’s what the writer does on set. We handle everything from small changes to, ‘does this character even talk the same way anymore’?”

So, because there were too many problems with the industry and someone had to do something about it, as well as the AMPTP becoming too antagonistic, the WGA went on strike. Then, the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) went on strike as well.

You may be thinking, “Why would actors go on strike? Actors get paid millions!”

No, they don’t. Maybe Dwayne Johnson does, as well as Keanu Reeves, and Samuel L. Jackson. But there are thousands of talented actors out there who wake up early and go to sleep late, who need to go from location to location, who need to pay an agent and a publicist, etc., and they aren’t getting enough money. This is directly connected to the reason the actors are striking: streaming residuals. Streaming has become one of the main ways of watching a movie or a TV series, and as such, the actors must get paid a small amount every time someone watches their show, right? Yes and no. Technically, actors have been getting paid in residuals, but there isn’t a set amount, and the AMPTP has taken advantage of this and screwed with it. Some actors have since revealed their residual pay.

Actress Mandy Moore said “The residual issue is a huge issue” and that “many actors before us were able to live off residuals or at least pay their bills.” When talking about her experience with residuals, she said she received “very tiny, like 81-cent checks” for her main role in six seasons of NBC’s This Is Us. Actress Kimiko Glenn, who portrayed Brook Soso in 45 episodes of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, revealed her combined pay for every episode in residuals was “$27.30”. She stated “We did not get paid very well, ever” and that even though many actors are famous, “they had to keep their second jobs because they couldn’t afford to not keep them. We couldn’t afford cabs to set”. She also vocalized her desire for real change with residuals. Saddest of all, actor Robert Carradine, who portrayed the father of Lizzie Mcguire in the TV series of the same name, a recurring role, revealed his residual paycheck: $0.00.

It’s a shame that this happens, but it gets deeper. Many studios try to cut corners and weave their way around paying actors and writers what they deserve. For instance, Disney Channel has a rule that they pay actors a small fraction of what they should be paid during the first three seasons of a series, possibly so the actors have a real reason to stick around. But (almost) every single Disney Channel series gets rebranded/rebooted under a different name instead of receiving a fourth season, and not many actors know about this loophole when signing on. Hannah Montana season 4 turned into Hannah Montana Forever, Suite Life of Zach and Cody season 4 turned into Suite Life On Deck. It’s no surprise that a mega-corporation has a way of trapping actors in a multiple-year-spanning web of less pay.

The writers and actors know that the AMPTP won’t accept anything reasonable; they’re too selfish and stingy. So the writers and actors proposed a list of bare minimum essentials, hoping that the AMPTP would accept some semblance of it. Let’s go through some of the proposals, as well as some of the AMPTP’s responses.

The WGA proposed a “Pre-greenlight room weekly services paid at 25% premium. Premium applies whenever writers are hired before a series or season order, including between seasons.” The writers want a system where they can use their ideas more and use the time that they have to help new and returning TV shows. Okay, that makes sense. The response? “5% premium for ‘development room’ weekly services. Premium applies only when 3 or more writers (including teams) are hired for 10 or fewer weeks before season 1 of a series”. Three or more writers and 10 or fewer weeks. Two things that the industry is known for frequently avoiding. 

When bringing up the obvious issue of streaming residuals, the WGA proposed to “Establish a viewership-based residual – in addition to existing fixed residual – to reward programs with greater viewership. Require transparency regarding program views.” The response was “Rejected. Refuse to make a counter”. They outright rejected it, even though it’s a known issue that the writers have been trying to fix for decades.

The SAG-AFTRA proposed “Apply union scale minimums, rest periods and protections for minors to new media productions that are not high budget, regardless of length.” Ah, yes, the issue of child actors. And what does the AMPTP have to say about this? “Rejected”.

The SAG-AFTRA proposed “Increase the penalties for not providing meal breaks, which have not been updated since 1961.” Meal breaks need to happen, yet many directors make actors skip over them due to the lack of penalty…”Rejected”.

The AMPTP doesn’t care. They’ve reportedly said, “the endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their homes”. The goal is the same as with any prior strike: sit, watch, and laugh until the writers run out of money, beg for their problematic jobs back, and confirm that the strike didn’t improve anything. It’s a sad truth that won’t change until people fully realize what is happening.

So the next time someone complains about their favorite show or movie being delayed or suspended due to the strike, point out what is really going on behind the scenes. The horrors, the mistreatment, and the many problems that Hollywood suffers from. 

People need to know. People need to support.